Soko turns the mobile phone into a tool for trade for local artisans

A global marketplace for local jewelry makers

Published in Economy by

Development aid from the West to Africa, we all know by now the con’s and pro’s. While researching our What Africa Can Do for Europe theme for the upcoming WDCD Live Amsterdam 2016 conference we came across Soko, an African startup that takes matters in its own hands, establishing a more independant position for women in Africa through design.
By Sinette Hesselink

The African trend is unstoppable when it comes to fashion. Emerging designers use their cultural heritage and artisanal craftsmanship as a starting point for fashion and accessories. Contemporary design adds a nice twist to traditional fabrics and materials. Many examples of modern African or African influenced design is trending business already: Maison Château Rouge x Sawa Shoes, Vlisco, Passport ADV and many others are leading the way. In 2014 we had another fine example on stage in the person of Laduma Ngxokolo who uses traditional Xhosa patterns in knitwear.


The artisan craft industry is the second largest employer in the developing world. It’s also one of the most disenfranchised. The founders of Soko (which means marketplace in Swahili) met in Nairobi, Kenya, where they were inspired to create technology solutions to change the lives of those around them, born out of a love of design, a combination of global perspectives, and the desire to connect and empower entrepreneurs via the use of the technology.

Using a mobile phone, artisans can create virtual storefronts by posting their products on Soko’s e-commerce website. Consumers then can buy directly from the designers. It helps them link directly with buyers from around the world, even if they don’t have access to a computer or a bank account.

International reach

Catherine Mahugu, the Kenyan co-founder of Soko, says the site receives tens of thousands of hits per month and has helped artisans to sell thousands of products to consumers from places such as the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia.

‘Soko transforms the ubiquitous mobile phone into a tool for trade that expands access to economic opportunity for developing world producers of handmade goods, giving them a greater share of the profits of the global creative goods industry,’ Mahugi says.

Education support

A firm belief in good education among the founders of Soko is stated trough their cooperation in the #SokoxPoP collection (see top video) under which agreement Soko donates 20 % of every purchase from this collection to Pencils of Promise to help fund schools in Ghana. All this under the motto: ‘A product may not change the world but it could build a school that can.’

Sinette Hesselink is a designer and trend forecaster based in Amsterdam

Soko's e-store

Soko's e-store

Soko team with Catherine Mahugu in the centre (red dress)

Soko team with Catherine Mahugu in the centre (red dress)

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